Last month, Mike Weber received the news every poultry farmer fears: His chickens tested positive for avian flu.
Petaluma is known as the "Egg Basket of the World." I Photo: Petaluma Egg Farm
Following government rules, Weber’s company, Sunrise Farms, had to slaughter its entire flock of egg-laying hens — 550,000 birds — to prevent the disease from infecting other farms in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, Terry Chea reported for the Associated Press (AP).
“It’s a trauma. We’re all going through grief as a result of it,” said Weber, standing in an empty henhouse.
“Petaluma is known as the Egg Basket of the World. It’s devastating to see that egg basket go up in flames.”
A year after the bird flu led to record egg prices and widespread shortages, the disease, known as highly pathogenic avian influenza, is wreaking havoc in California, which escaped the earlier wave of outbreaks that devastated poultry farms in the Midwest.
The highly contagious virus has ravaged Sonoma County, where officials have declared a state of emergency.
Over the past two months, nearly a dozen commercial farms have had to destroy more than 1 million birds to control the outbreak, dealing an economic blow to farmers, workers, and their customers.
Merced County in Central California has also been hit hard, with outbreaks at several large commercial egg-producing farms in recent weeks.
Experts say bird flu is spread by ducks, geese, and other migratory birds, which can carry the virus without getting sick and easily spread to chicken and turkey farms and backyard flocks through droppings and nasal discharges.